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Observations placeholder

Dialogues of the Patriarch Hwan Yuan Chi - Eating breath



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

Immortality and Reincarnation – Alexandra David-Neel

Professor Pen Chen, a contemporary Taoist scholar, imparted to me this note concerning the Taoist technical expression "eating breath":

"The following quotations are from the Dialogues of the Patriarch Hwan Yuan Chi, who lived during the time of the Yuan dynasty (1277-1367).  It is not impossible that these discourses may have another master of the same name as their author.  Whatever the case may be, the work from which the passage below is taken is very well known in China. It is still kept close at hand by many Taoists who view it as a guide to the spiritual life:

The breath held in the body or kept outside through the prevention of inhalation is called "primordial breath."

It is not nasal breathing.

A small portion of this primordial breath is called the embryonic breath in the body during the beginning stages of Taoist practice. It can be understood as the "cosmic breath," but Taoists don't make a five-division distinction as do the Indians; they don't regard restrained or held breaths in the same way that the Indians regard kumbaka.

It is only after the suspension of the ‘breath’ accompanied by the cessation of all mental activity that the ‘embryonic breath’ will be found in the body. This primordial breath is also called "real breath," "the unique real essence," or "the natural primordial breath."

It is without form, without colour, without sound, without thought.

It is far away and very close.  It is neither within nor without. It neither waxes, nor wanes. It is not caused by the satvic activities of man and is consequently "existing"; nor is it caused by the tamasic tendencies and consequently "non-existing."  It is the root of all things, previous to creation. Without it nothing could exist.

The awakening of embryonic breathing is the departure point of a movement named "the return to the root" or "the return to life" and taught by Lao-tzu. When this embryonic breathing is set in motion, a feeling of joy fills every cell of the entire body and sends a clear and luminous breath climbing up to the crown of the head in such a way that the senses also become greatly illuminated.

Next, this breath dissolves into the spirit, and the Taoist begins his alchemy by preparing the elixir of life within that will make him suitable for immortality.''

The source of the experience


Concepts, symbols and science items

Science Items

Activities and commonsteps


Embryonic breathing